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Places and Palaces in Danbury Country Park

A gentle countryside walk, with panoramic views, exploring ancient woodland, flower-filled meadows and bird-filled lakes.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Grass and woodland paths, field paths, some road

Landscape Ancient woodland, lakes, meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 183 Chelmsford & The Rodings, Maldon & Witham

Start/finish TL 781050

Dog friendliness Some open space but must be on lead most of way

Parking Free car park off Main Road opposite library and inside Danbury Country Park

Public toilets Main Road car park, car parks at Danbury Country Park which also have facilities for disabled

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1 Leave the car park via the grassy path to the right of the leisure centre. Walk downhill, with the playing fields left and hedgerows right. One hundred yards (91m) after the Armada beacon, turn left at the cross path for panoramic views of south Essex towards Kent.

2 Turn right into Pennyroyal Road past the Cricketers Arms, then cross Bicknacre Road into Sporehams Lane. Follow the path marked 'Butts Green'. At a signpost, take a track through dwarf oaks and gorse, to cross a bridge. After 25yds (23m), turn right, past houses in Fitzwalter Lane.

3 At the last house, called Dane View, keep left and follow the footpath through woodland to Woodhill Road, and turn left to the sign marking the entrance to Danbury Country Park on the right. In the car park take the kissing gate on the left and go left again on to the path just before the information board.

4 Maintain direction past another car park and a second lake, until you reach the toilets. Turn right between the lakes, and continue ahead to reach the red brick perimeter wall of the Danbury Conference Centre and Palace.

5 Turn right through formal gardens and, with the lake on your right, follow the path half left through woods. Maintain direction uphill, diagonally across a meadow and through the kissing gate. From the kissing gate, walk half left uphill towards the copse. Follow the boardwalk around the small water-filled gravel pit, then take the path uphill between red-and-white painted posts and continue ahead, passing a yellow waymark. Cross the meadow towards the oak trees, keeping the white metal posts to your right.

6 At the last white post, turn left and cross the stile carefully on to the busy A414. Cross the road into Riffhams Lane, and walk uphill to Elm Green Lane. Here turn right, uphill, to the A414 by the war memorial on the green. Cross the A414, turn left along the verge and right along the footpath beside the Rectory Farmhouse.

7 At the T-junction turn left for views of St John the Baptist Church and graveyards. At the second T-junction, turn left to visit the church. Turn right to rejoin your outward path past the radio mast and return to the car park.

Danbury is surrounded by delightful woodland, much of it common land, and is the largest area of woodland in Essex after Epping Forest. Steep hillocks and heathland soil have prevented intensive arable farming and, as a result, its environs are now designated nature reserves, owned and managed by various conservation agencies, including the National Trust and the Essex Wildlife Trust. These areas pack in a huge variety of habitats in a relatively small space and, if you're a lover of woodland walks, then a stroll around Danbury is bound to appeal.

The village is perched on a hill, 350ft (107m) above sea level, on the A414 east of Chemsford. The slender spire of St John the Baptist Church is visible for miles around, especially if you're approaching along the A12 from London. This superb setting compensates for what Danbury lacks in historic buildings and, apart from the church, there is little to detain you in the village.

On this gentle walk you'll discover some characterful 18th- and 19th-century farms and cottages and the rather splendid 16th-century Danbury Palace, (off limits to the public) inside the country park. Sir Walter Mildmay, founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, built the house you see today and called it Danbury Place. But when it was sold to the Church of England in 1845 for £24,700, and occupied by George Murray, 96th Bishop of Rochester, it became known as Danbury Palace, reflecting its change in status.

In the 13th century, aristocratic families went deer hunting in the park, which had been a gift to Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex, by William I. Today the country park has three delightful duck-filled lakes, picnic areas and impressive specimens of beech and oak. Beside the palace there are beautiful ornamental gardens filled, in summer, with flowers from Asia and the Americas, while herbaceous perennials attract a host of butterflies.

Your journey's end is at St John the Baptist Church, in a location where Iron Age farmers once lived. Having risen to these comparatively dizzy heights, look southwards where the views are both impressive and extensive, and you soon understand why the Saxons fortified this position. The Normans, following in their footsteps, built the church and everyone was happy for a time. But, when Henry VIII decreed that the monasteries should be dissolved in 1536, church furnishings throughout the land were sold to avoid confiscation. The story goes that an enterprising medieval DIY enthusiast used much of the wood from the church to kit out the Griffin Inn across the road and, until a few decades ago, part of the rood screen could still be seen above the bar.

What to look for

St John the Baptist Church is famous for its oak carvings of three knights; one drawing his sword, another sheathing his sword and a third in prayer. In 1779 grave-diggers hit upon a lead coffin beside one of the carvings, only to discover the body of one of these knights, preserved in formaldehyde.

Where to eat and drink

The Cricketers Arms makes a good stop for liquid refreshment and also serves a range of bar meals. Try the Griffin Inn, just across the road from the church, for great snacks and sandwiches.

While you're there

Visit Danbury Palace's18th-century Ice House. Ice was collected from lakes, or imported from Scandinavia and America, and stored here between layers of straw. It was then cut up and popped into summer drinks and desserts.

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